Published: 08/01/2001 - by John DiPietro, Automotive Editor
In the words of U2's Bono (from the song "Desire"), "Pretty soon, everybody got one." Although he wasn't referring to pickup trucks, he might as well have been. Consider that currently the two top-selling vehicles are pickup trucks: the full-size Ford F-Series followed by the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra twins. That's right, people are buying more of these pickups than Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys. And while some of those buyers use these beasts to tow trailers, haul supplies, tend to the ranch or as chassis cabs for U-Haul trucks, others simply use them as commuter vehicles, most of the time driving solo with an empty bed while using fuel at a horrific rate.
A more reasonable pickup choice for the latter group might be a compact pickup, something that's easier on gas and easier to park. Some truck enthusiasts might gripe that there isn't enough room for people or cargo with a smaller truck. But the newest wrinkle in the compact pickup truck segment could suit them just fine: the crew cab. This body style features four full-size doors, so those extended-cab models with the two smaller, rear-hinged doors don't count. A crew cab has a longer passenger compartment, affording rear passengers a real bench seat, not a couple of thinly padded jump seats. In order to keep overall length reasonable for on- and off-road maneuverability, the bed length is usually shorter than that model's standard or extended-cab version. To increase bed capacity, some manufacturers offer a clever bed extender that gives nearly the same cargo capacity (for large items) in the bed as a non-crew cab truck.
Geared toward folks who need the seating capacity of an SUV but prefer the open-bed cargo flexibility of a pickup, compact crew cabs are rapidly gaining in popularity in this truck-obsessed country. Naturally, a comparison test of these rigs was inevitable, so we gathered up five four-wheel-drive versions of all the eligible contestants. Present for this test were the Chevrolet S-10 LS crew cab, Dodge Dakota SLT Plus Quad Cab, Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Nissan Frontier SC V6 crew cab and the Toyota Tacoma Limited Double Cab.
The Toyota, Nissan and Chevy are all about the same size and basic shape. The Dodge is a midsize pickup, a rarity and indeed the only one of its ilk, as pickups are usually compact or large in size. The Explorer Sport Trac is basically an Explorer with a pickup bed in place of the SUV's covered cargo area. We understand that the latter two entries may be stretching the definition of compact crew cab, but in the interest of including any vehicle one may consider when shopping in this segment, we tossed them into the mix. Pricing of our test vehicles ranged from $26,033 for the Chevrolet to $31,025 for the Dodge.
We subjected them to a through thrashing ... umm, we mean a comprehensive comparison test. We took them into the boonies, actually using them as our mounts while participating in a two-day off-road driving school. We also drove them in stop-and-go traffic, on twisty two-lane roads and on the freeway. We even conducted acceleration and braking tests with the beds both empty and loaded up with 800 pounds of sandbags. Some of us are still using liberal applications of Ben-Gay to soothe our usually inactive muscles. But enough of the preamble and on with the test!
Ah, yes. The honor of finishing dead last. Is there a difference between last and dead last? Semantics aside, there were two main character flaws that hindered the Chevy: a dated design and a generally unrefined feel.
Nobody actually hated the S-10's appearance; we all felt it was simply too blah. "Not a single distinguishing feature." "Not ugly, but dated." These were a few of the less-than-complimentary comments scribbled onto our eval sheets. The cabin was a mixed bag of good design (large, simple center stack controls) and bad (the separate cassette deck that is mounted nearly on the floor). And when are Chevrolet's engineers going to redesign that overburdened turn signal stalk? There's too much going on there, with the wipers and cruise control functions joining the turn signal and headlight dimming functions.
Up front, the bucket seats were deemed too soft. They feel fine at first, but don't offer enough support, which becomes apparent on longer drives. And the rear seat's bottom cushion was too short, making it feel as if we were sitting on the edge of an ottoman.
The slowest truck in the 0-to-60 dash and second slowest in the quarter-mile, the S-10 suffered even more when the bed was filled with our sandbags. The Chevy took 12.9 seconds to get to 60 mph with an 800-pound payload more than a second behind the supercharged Nissan. And even the transmission, usually a strong area for GM, was criticized for being slow to downshift, though it did operate smoothly.
A few editors felt the brakes were a bit touchy, but once they were acclimated to the pedal, they felt it offered decent modulation. But even though it was the only truck fitted with rear discs, the Chevy produced the longest stopping distances, whether with an empty bed (139 feet) or with our payload in back (147 feet).
We had to look under the S-10 to be certain it was a 4x4 with its minimal ground clearance, it looked like a 2WD truck. And unlike the extended-cab version, there is no off-road package offered on the S-10 crew cab. Yet, in spite of this seemingly large off-road disadvantage, the S-10 did fine, clambering over rocks with the best of 'em. Helping out in this respect were the 70-series tires with their big sidewalls that allowed the low-slung S-10 to get through tricky, rutted terrain. On the blacktop, the tires were quick to squeal as their soft sidewalls flexed, yet our test pilot was able to hustle the Chevy through the cones at 59.0 mph, only 1 mph slower than the leader.
The S-10's ride quality was mostly agreeable, save for a tendency to bounce, pogo stick-like, over freeway expansion joints.
We know GM can offer better than the S-10. In fact, the company will soon offer an all-new version designed and engineered by Isuzu and likely named the Colorado. Our advice? Wait for the new one.
Senior Editor Brent Romans says:
In our midsize SUV test, the 2000 Chevy TrailBlazer didn't fare too well. The 2000 TrailBlazer and the S-10 are very similar trucks in terms of hardware. So does it come as a big surprise that the S-10 didn't fare too well, either?
Most of the traits that I liked about the TrailBlazer are also found on the S-10. Despite the lack of upgraded off-road hardware or meaty tires (the ZR2 package isn't available on the Crew Cab), the S-10 crawled over rocks almost as well as the Tacoma or the Dodge did. It has a wonderful low-range transfer case that allows the truck to climb or descend steep trails with little problem.
I actually don't mind the interior, either. It's comfortable, with decent storage areas and easy-to-use controls. And piloting the S-10 is a perfectly agreeable experience, as well. OK, so the power is on the weak side. But it goes well enough, steers fine and has a decent ride. Oh, it's also affordable; our test truck was the cheapest in the test.
So why the lowly finish? The other trucks are simply better. The Ford has more features and style, the Dodge is more muscular, the Toyota has a better reputation for reliability. The Nissan looks better. If I were shopping in this segment, I'd also be worried about the S-10's generally low scores for crash safety. The 2001 S-10 Crew Cab isn't a horrible truck, but I'd certainly stick it out a couple more years to wait for the redesigned S-10 coming out in 2003.
Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
Unlike the Nissan's, the S-10's low finish wasn't exactly a surprise. Not that it doesn't possess the hardware to compete in this segment. But when you're hoping to attract young male buyers, you're not going to do it with a truck that looks like this.
Granted, our test truck was shod with puny street tires and a standard suspension that together possess about one tenth of the appeal of the tricked-out ZR2 extended-cab S-10. But hey, the other trucks managed to look good; why not the S-10?
Off-road, the compliant suspension worked surprisingly well, allowing the Chevy to negotiate the same terrain as all the other trucks with barely a scratch. But on-road, the mushy ride and lifeless steering make you fully aware of this truck's ancient design. Even the big 4.3-liter Vortec V6 under the hood struggled to hold its own against the much smaller, but more technologically advanced, engines in the competition. There's plenty of grunt down low, but as the tach climbs, it runs out of steam quickly.
The interior also shows signs of age, with cheap plastic knobs and switches, and seats that offer little side or thigh bolstering. The rear seats are woefully inadequate for any decent-sized adults; their short seat cushions leave your legs hanging off the edge as if you were sitting on a diving board.
If you're a die-hard Chevy fan, take heart in knowing that a completely redesigned replacement is on the way soon. But if you're in the market for a four-door truck right now, you would be better off going for a stripped-down Tacoma or six-cylinder Dakota rather than trying to justify the value equation with an old-tech S-10.
Road Test Coordinator Neil Chirico says:
What surprised me about the Chevrolet was how well it did off-road, considering its low clearance. This thing rocked in the dirt; it was big fun and very stable.
The interior reminded me of our recently departed long-term GMC Sierra in appearance; it was the mini-me version of it with much of the same switchgear in a smaller package. Of course that brings up the whole issue of long-term quality, which our Sierra never had. Would the S-10 follow suit?
The switchgear is like the dummies' guide to switchgear. The various knobs and switches are large and clearly labeled and probably easy to manipulate with work gloves on, handy on those few occasions when one would actually drive with gloves on.
Visually, the Chevrolet is about as exciting as a loaf of white bread actually, even some white breads come wrapped in more attractive packaging.
Hey, Chevy, this vehicle could use a better engine for the otherwise well done powertrain. I believe this truck would have placed higher if it had better engine performance.
Ranking in Stereo Test: Third
System Score: 5.75
Components: This system consists of a standard-issue GM head unit, which is well appointed with a usable topography and very user-friendly controls. These include pop-out buttons for bass, treble, balance and fade; a nice round volume knob; a single CD player; and a bright LED readout. The faceplate is set up for easy navigation, so you can keep your eye on the road and not on the head unit. Only one feature mars this setup: a separate cassette deck that is located a full 2 feet below the rest of the controls, in a housing at the bottom of the dash. I must assume that the cassette deck was added as an option (although the vehicle sticker does not indicate this), since the owner's manual shows it built into the head unit. Too bad, because otherwise this is a very consumer-friendly system.
Speakerwise, the rear doors house a pair of 5-inch full-range drivers. The front doors hold a pair of 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers, which work in sync with a pair of dash-mounted tweeters. In spite of a minimum amount of speakers, this system puts out a lot of sound.
Performance: If you like bass, this is your system. It really thumps. GM truck sound systems, especially the ones I've listened to lately, don't offer a balanced approach to sound. This would appear to be by design. With a fair amount of road noise and jostling around, you probably don't want refinement. This system obliges that desire. Instead, you get rollicking bass and piercing highs. Hey, it ain't Beethoven you'll be listening to in this truck anyway. Drums and percussion are very, well, percussive, and the thump monster will get you, if you don't watch out. The amp gives up the ghost at about two-thirds volume, but you'll have fun and bleeding eardrums before it does.
Best Feature: Mondo bass response.
Worst Feature: Strangely located cassette player.
Conclusion: I knocked off some points for the poorly positioned cassette player and a few more for the unbalanced sound. But you'll have fun with this system if you like the bump and run.
On paper and at first glance, the Nissan may look like a top contender here. And yet, it finished behind the Explorer. How could that be? In a nutshell, the Ford simply had more more useable power and a more accommodating rear seat.
Sporting the most extroverted exterior of our troupe of trucks, the newest Frontier is a far cry from the rather dull version that preceded it. With its "get outta my way" facade and exaggerated wheel flares, the Frontier's styling should be a smash hit with the younger crowd.
An assortment of rants and raves was directed at the instrument panel layout. The climate controls employ a simple three-knob design that we feel can't be improved upon, but the indicator lights for the "recirculate" and "air conditioning" modes were hard to see, as they easily washed out in sunlight. The stereo is located low in the center stack but features large buttons as well as controls on the steering wheel. A six-disc in-dash CD changer won over the audiophiles in our group, who also gave the sound quality a thumbs-up. Cheesy silver plastic accents "grace" the dash fortunately, the 2002 Frontier will feature a revamped interior.
The front seats were judged generally comfortable but in need of more lateral and lumbar support. The rear seat was thoroughly blasted for its lack of room even our 5-foot 5-inch 145-pound writer felt hemmed in back there. An upright backrest and an absence of legroom really hurt the Nissan in this area.
With a supercharged V6, we expected furious performance. Well, from 0 to around 45 mph, there is big power. Driving around town, we were impressed by how the Frontier scooted away from traffic lights and passed dawdling vehicles with ease. But when asked to pull away at faster speeds, such as when merging onto the freeway, the force-fed V6 got winded and didn't feel much stronger than the naturally aspirated (non-supercharged) and rather anemic version of this engine. One scribe described it this way: "Great off-idle response, but it runs out of breath quickly." The 3.3-liter V6's raw numbers are respectable: 210 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque, but with the Frontier tipping the scales at 4,208 pounds, those horses have to move the pudgiest of the three true compact crew cabs. The Tacoma, without the benefit of a supercharger, supported our seat-of-the-pants impressions, as it beat the Frontier by a half second to 60 mph and by four-tenths of a second in the quarter-mile drag. The fact that the Toyota weighs around 500 pounds less than the Nissan certainly helps, but there's no denying its fatter power band. For the most part, the automatic tranny was a solid performer, delivering timely and smooth gearshifts; one writer noted that it was competent and unobtrusive.
The heavier Nissan duplicated the same stopping distances as the Toyota (both reined in at 125 feet), and though it came in second to the Tacoma in overall braking performance, one editor felt that the Nissan had the best stoppers, going so far as giving it a perfect 10 on his evaluation sheet.
One thing that had us scratching our collective noggins was the choice for the Frontier's tires. The meaty, low-profile (265/55R17) Firestone Firehawks are street performance-oriented and not designed for off-road bashing. As expected, these tires, along with a firm, well-controlled suspension, helped the Nissan in the 600-foot slalom, where it managed a first-place 60.6 mph average speed through the cones. But in spite of the slalom victory, most of us weren't crazy about the Frontier's steering, with a few noting that it felt dead on-center and was a bit too slow.
We were hesitant to subject the Frontier to our off-road school's more technical trails, fearing that the short-sidewall tires were prime candidates for a blowout and/or damaged wheel rims. No worries, mate. Although we'd still recommend a tire change for anyone who would be using a Frontier off-road more than occasionally, our truck's sneakers didn't let us down in the boonies. And considering the firm suspension and sport tires, the Frontier's ride comfort was more supple than expected not exactly cushy, but not as stiff as the Toyota, either.
In spite of its shortcomings, we can still see Nissan selling a bunch of these. As one of our staffers put it: "Flashy styling, the ability to burn rubber and a kickin' stereo are probably bigger priorities than rear passenger comfort or a flat powerband for a large number of the targeted buyers for this truck."
Road Test Coordinator Neil Chirico says:
It doesn't even come close to living up to its image! The engine is such a let-down, it ruins the rest of the experience.
Listening to this engine under boost conditions is painful. It's like listening to someone trying to blow up an air mattress through a straw. There's lots of noise but little forward movement.
I was surprised at how well this vehicle did off-road, but let's face it, that's not what it was designed for, "four-by" or not. This is an on-road vehicle, more in its element when tackling the corners on pavement. Nissan did a wonderful job taking an off-road package and making it handle on the road.
The interior initially impressed me with its rich look, but I was soon thinking differently when I scrutinized some of the switch gear materials and funky colors used on parts of the dash. That silver paint has to go.
Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
This truck was a little bit of a surprise. I was already aware that its rear seats were hardly adult-sized, and the looks were definitely polarizing. But with a supercharged engine and those big 17s tucked under the fenders, I figured it would be right up there when all was said and done. So what went wrong?
First off, the supercharged engine just isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Sure, it has that killer supercharger whine and instantaneous throttle response, but beyond that, it runs out of gas quickly. There's just not enough juice under the hood to set the Frontier apart from the pack, which then forces you to consider the rest of this not-so-great ride. The restyled dash is decent, but the goofy climate control knobs and mismatched colors on the dash panel hardly help the cause.
Then you consider the bouncy off-road ride that causes you to slow down out of fear that you'll pogo right off the trail and the Frontier definitely slips to the back of the pack. To its credit, it had superior on-road grip, but much of that can be attributed to the seriously wide street tires mounted underneath. The steering was heavy like most of the trucks' in the test, but unlike the Toyota, the Nissan's wheels just don't deliver the road feel that could make it much more tossable.
The Frontier did have some cool features that the other trucks didn't, like an in-dash CD changer and stylish red stitching on the black leather seats, but when it comes to buying a truck like this, that's not exactly what I would be looking for. An off-road edition with a retuned suspension, simple cloth seats and a lower sticker price would surely help the Frontier in a test like this, but until then, the Frontier will get second billing to the less sophisticated but more fun-to-drive competition.
Senior Editor Brent Romans says:
Nissan was the first manufacturer in this group to produce a compact crew cab pickup. And for that, Nissan gets a gold star. It's also the first truck to offer a factory-installed supercharger. (In case you forget, Nissan has plastered loud "4x4 Supercharged" decals along the flanks. Ugh).
As for the actual product, this truck disappointed me. Supercharged is supposed to mean big, butt-kicking power. Seventeen-inch low-profile tires are supposed to mean superior handling and grip. And when I drove the truck on the street, it seemed to handle and accelerate pretty well. I also liked the distinctive whine generated by the supercharger. But numbers don't lie, and the Nissan struggled to keep up at the test track. If there is a silver lining to this, it's that with the supercharger, the Frontier was at least competitive. How much slower would the truck have been if it had the wheezy 170-horsepower normally aspirated V6?
The other main problem with the Frontier was its cramped backseat compared to the other trucks. The purpose of this type of truck is to offer both comfortable accommodations and a cargo box. The Frontier fails on the first point. If the backseat is no fun to sit on, why not just get an extended-cab pickup and enjoy the regular-size bed?
Ranking in Stereo Test: First
System Score: 7.25
Components: Almost every time I climb into a Nissan vehicle, I know I'm going to be pleased by the sound system. I keep waiting to be disappointed, and I hardly ever am. It seems that Nissan has a commitment to quality sound that goes beyond the industry norm. I don't know why this is. It may be that someone in the higher echelons of Nissan is a classical music buff (sometimes it takes only one well-positioned person to make a policy change) and has personally seen to it that the company's audio products are a cut above the competition. Whatever the reason, it's clear that Nissan is committed to quality audio in its products. As a family of vehicles, they're hard to beat.
This system begins with a functional head unit that has a number of great features. The radio occupies a double-DIN space in the dash ("DIN" is the international size standard for a radio opening; double-DIN would thus be twice this size), and this offers a number of advantages to the user. For one, controls are much more spread out and less crowded than on a conventional radio. This particular head unit has an excellent layout and topography that guides the user effortlessly from function to function. In addition to a six-disc CD changer (but no cassette), it gives the user outstanding tone flexibility (including a "mid" control that's a breeze to use) and a large volume knob. Although some of the buttons have little spacing between them, most of them are oversized and therefore still easy to use. Overall, this is a very fine head unit.
Speakers include a pair of 6.5-inch full-range drivers in the rear doors, as well as a pair of 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers in the front doors. A pair of tweeters grace the upper-front portion of the front doors.
Performance: Well, it's not the loudest system in the test (give that crown to the Dodge Dakota), nor is it the fanciest. So why does it win? Because it sounds fantastic. Don't know why, can't even explain it, but the tonal balance and sonic purity of this system outclass the rest of the systems in this test. Horns and strings are precise and full of warmth, vocals resonate with detail and intricacy, and the overall sound of the system is impressive. There is one major design flaw a weak amplifier and for those who like their music really loud, this will be a disappointment. Even so, this system sounds so much better than the others that it easily ranks as the best.
Best Feature: Excellent sound quality
Worst Feature: Needs a bigger amp
Conclusion: Nissan proves once again that its engineers know how to build a sound system. Although this one isn't as loud as some other systems and lacks a fancy brand name, it still wins hands down.
The SUV craze has resulted in a number of variations on that theme. Witness the Explorer Sport Trac. Designed to appeal to those folks who want the passenger accommodations of an SUV along with the open-bed cargo capability of a pickup, the Sport Trac's disjointed styling brought forth some unfavorable comments such as this one: "The goofy bed looks like it came off another vehicle, and the large gap where it meets the passenger compartment only adds to this impression." But the Explorer Sport Trac was not without its charms, as the unique power back window and a cargo-area power point got universal thumbs up from our crew.
Where the Explorer kicked butt was in passenger comfort, capturing top honors in both front and rear seat comfort. Our large-framed road test coordinator, Neil Chirico, felt right at home in the Explorer's seats, as he pronounced them lounge-chair-like. Easy-to-use controls, such as the large climate control knobs and big cruise control buttons mounted on the steering wheel won a few other compliments for the Sport Trac. Other elements of the Explorer's cabin drew fire, however, such as the abundance of hard plastic and sub-par assembly (the ill-fitting power window pod in the driver's door, for example).
Under its funky skin, the Explorer Sport Trac shares most components with the regular 2001 Explorer, including the workhorse 4.0-liter SOHC V6 rated at 205 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. Although it won't win any awards for refinement, the stout V6 got the job done and was second only to the Dakota's V8 in our acceleration tests. A Jekyll-and-Hyde transmission is mated to this engine and features five, rather than the more typical four, speeds the first in its class. We make the reference to Robert Louis Stevenson's horror novel because this gearbox did fine changing up through the gears, but when a downshift was needed, it was usually reluctant to do so. It would hesitate before shifting down even when the gas pedal was pinned to the floor.
The Sport Trac was rated fourth overall for braking performance, with pedal feel comments ranging from "solid" to "wooden." This seems to be an area of personal preference; some folks like a firm, almost hard pedal feel while others prefer a softer, more progressive action. In any event, the Ford did fine as far as the numbers go, actually posting the shortest stopping distance from 60 mph (at 135 feet) with our 800-pound sandbag payload.
Athletic the Sport Trac is not. The soft suspension engendered a floaty feeling in sweeping turns. And mid-corner bumps would upset the chassis, sometimes making for a jarring ride under those conditions. As with the suspension, the tires were not thrilled when pushed through twisty roads, and they let us know it with plenty of audible protest. And yes, we know these aren't sport sedans, but really, we didn't push the Ford all that hard. Most of the time, the ride was acceptable, not as good as the Dodge but better than the Chevy. When challenged with trail-bashing, the Sport Trac got through it, but it definitely wasn't the pick of the litter for this task. Low-hanging components underneath the truck frequently scraped when it was driven over rocky terrain.
With the recently introduced and improved 2002 Explorer, we can't help but wonder when (if?) the "new" Sport Trac will debut, and we were surprised that this version finished third. Strong performance and a comfy interior count for a lot in this new vehicle class, and evidently, the Sport Trac had enough of both to place mid-pack in this competitive field.
Road Test Coordinator Neil Chirico says:
I was impressed with this vehicle's dynamics and am shocked that it comes from the same company that makes the Explorer Sport we tested earlier this year. I even liked the dynamics better than the 2002 version of the Explorer we recently tested. Why can't all Explorers be this good?
Off-road capabilities could be improved for the more serious off-road buyer, but I think most buyers of this vehicle wouldn't use it that much for off-roading.
I absolutely loved the power rear window with one-touch up, down and vent. It was perfect for allowing a nice flow of fresh air into the cabin.
The brakes proved to be a little lacking when faced with large mountain descents, as they got a little hot, although they never faded.
The transmission downshifts are the worst; you practically have to put your foot through the floorboard to invoke a downshift. When it does shift down, the gearing is all wrong; third is too tall and gets you out of the power band, yet second is so short that the engine's revving to the moon.
These were my favorite seats of the test ... nearly perfect. Seat material could be a little better, but comfort was spot-on.
Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
When the Sport Trac debuted, I was admittedly skeptical. Why have this stupid little bed stuck on the back of an Explorer? Why not just buy a real truck? Well, after I drove the Sport Trac through some pretty wicked terrain and a substantial amount of around-town driving, it managed to curry a little favor from my discerning eye. Not that I would run out and buy one or anything, but I can now see how and why many have done just that.
Probably the biggest draw of the Explorer is the expansive cabin. When you're planted in the back row of this hybrid Explorer, there's noticeably more room than the other trucks in the test. Seat comfort wasn't exactly top-notch, but the extra head- and legroom makes it seem that much more comfortable.
Although the Sport Trac looks somewhat fragile with its low-mounted sidesteps, they managed to stay out of harm's way during our off-road excursions with no reported damage. The soft suspension was comfortable on rough roads, but its total lack of feedback made it somewhat less enjoyable than some of the more stiffly sprung trucks. On the pavement, the slow steering and wallowy ride just didn't appeal to my performance-oriented tastes, but I learned to appreciate the Explorer's solid interior ergonomics.
Unfortunately, I never was able to get over some of the cheap interior plastics used throughout the dash, and the front seats didn't prove much better than the rears. Then again, the Sport Trac is intended for people who really don't want a truck. Instead, they just want their Explorer with the ability to haul a little dirt or mulch once in a while. For these purposes, the Sport Trac is just fine, but if you want a four-door truck, buy a truck.
Senior Editor Brent Romans says:
Features, features, features! Get your hot, fresh unique features here! Want a power rear window that can be operated from the cabin? Got it. How about a five-speed automatic transmission? Yep. Need a cargo box made of sheet-molding composite (SMC) plastic, which is 20 percent lighter than steel and more durable? The Sport Trac has got you covered.
There is a lot to like about this pickup. I appreciate Ford's effort to make the Sport Trac more than just an Explorer with a goofy-looking box on the back. Things like the extra cargo tie-downs, the textured rubber flooring, the power point in the cargo box, the storage compartments hidden behind the rear seats and the special floormats and seat materials are bonus items. Overall, I think the Sport Trac makes a nice alternative to a regular four-door Explorer.
There are certain areas that I think Ford could improve upon, however. Unloaded ride quality was poor; the truck was too bouncy and generally unpleasant to drive. Even more worrisome was the lackluster build quality found on our test truck. Interior trim pieces were loose and had large gaps. The driver-side window switch pod popped out easily, exposing the wires beneath. Our truck was also leaking transmission fluid during our test.
Ford has been criticized recently about declining levels of quality. Maybe it's time to bring back the old Ford tagline. You know, where "Quality Is Job 1"?
Ranking in Stereo Test: Fifth (last)
System Score: 4.5
Components: The head unit in this system is not as user-friendly as most of the other systems in this test. Specifically, the buttons along the top of the radio are too small and bunched together, making some of the controls difficult to use. Also, the system offers only a single-play CD player (and a cassette). We strongly recommend that you look at upgrading this system to one with a CD changer and more power.
Speakers, also, lack some of the niceties we've come to expect from Ford. The 6.5-inch full-range speakers in the front and rear doors are rudimentary in design and placement, with no separate tweeters to augment the highs and no subwoofer to boost the lows. As a result, sound is lackluster throughout the audio spectrum.
Performance: As mentioned above, this system lacks sonically in several areas, producing a sound that disappoints more often than it impresses. For instance, the anemic power amplifier cannot effectively drive the speakers, leaving them to fend for themselves when the source material gets challenging. Highs are grainy, scratchy and "hissy," while bass response is thin, hollow and flabby. Mids also lack depth and detail.
Best Feature: Elevated radio position.
Worst Feature: Poor sound quality.
Conclusion: We strongly recommend that you take a look at some of the upgrade options available on this vehicle. Ford has a good reputation in the audio area, but this entry-level system leaves a lot to be desired. We haven't heard the upgraded system yet, but we're convinced it would be a major improvement.
The Toyota was praised for its all-around competency, a key characteristic when facing one's rivals. Although it had one of the smallest engines (at 3.4 liters) in the test, it was also the only truck that weighed less than 4,000 pounds (3,705, to be exact).
The Tacoma's basic styling, which dates back to 1995, is mostly easy on the eyes. But that grille! What was the inspiration there a sci-fi horror flick or a Lhasa apso? Aside from the bizarre grille, we liked the Tacoma's looks, especially the character lines over the wheelwells.
Inside the cabin, we found typical Toyota fit and finish, which is to say that everything fits right and materials are of high quality. Up front, nearly all of us rated seat comfort as excellent and appreciated the plump side bolsters that hugged us in the turns. Road Test Coordinator and track test pilot Neil Chirico was the lone dissenter in this area. At 6 feet 1 inch and 225 pounds, Neil felt that the Toyota's chairs weren't designed for "large American butts." As expected, the Tacoma's cabin was tight in back compared to the bigger Dodge. The rear quarters were judged more comfy than the Chevy or Nissan, due mainly to the Toyota's superior seat cushion shaping and padding.
Providing the muscle for the Tacoma is Toyota's 3.4-liter double overhead cam 24-valve V6. The most modern engine in the test, it is also the most efficient in terms of power versus displacement (if we don't count the supercharged Nissan). But the downside of a multi-valver is that it usually makes its big power at higher rpm not a desirable characteristic in a truck, which needs low-rpm grunt for hauling and handling off-road duty. The Tacoma, however, didn't seem to be lacking at all and, indeed, had a fat, useable powerband that made for lively performance all 'round. Again, the relatively light curb weight of the Tacoma helps out in this respect. Also making the most of the engine's ability was the cooperative automatic transmission that features "normal" and "power" shift modes, and when in the latter position it furnished quick and firm (though sometimes abrupt) gear changes.
Although the Toyota placed first in braking, we still had a few gripes. Overall, the brakes performed fine, tying the Nissan for the shortest unloaded stopping distance (at 125 feet) from 60 mph. But with the bed full of sandbags, that distance increased by 15 feet (same as the Nissan). Not a big deal, as one would expect a longer distance when loaded up, but the Dodge only needed 4 more feet to stop when it was sandbagged.
What surprised us was the brake fade we experienced after hustling the Tacoma through some Los Angeles-area canyon roads. It got to the point that the brake pedal's travel doubled, and the ABS was impossible to invoke. After we cautiously completed the long and twisty descent, the brakes had a chance to cool off and were fine once again. In fairness, this was a rather extreme scenario (the route was marked with "steep grade" signage) that we attacked aggressively, one that most drivers wouldn't experience too often. And as this did not occur on the test loop (an editor took a short cut through the canyons on his way home), it was not held against the Tacoma in the scoring, but still bears mentioning.
Perhaps the Tacoma's most endearing trait was its nimble nature. On-road and off, the Toyota was never caught flat-footed. The V6's broad powerband and the alert automatic gearbox were always ready to squirt the Tacoma away from a light or briskly down a fire road. Equipped with the optional TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Off-Road package, our test truck was stiffly sprung. The Tacoma handled well on pavement but occasionally felt somewhat jittery, especially without passengers or cargo. Most staffers felt that the steering action was somewhat slow but smooth, and acceptable in this class of vehicle. In off-road driving, a quick, twitchy steering response is not an ally on loose, precarious terrain where smooth, "easy-does-it" movements are preferred. We all agreed that the ride felt as if the wheels were bolted right to the framerails a bit firm to say the least though again this truck had the off road suspension package.
On the trails, the combination of trim dimensions, a firm suspension, generous ground clearance, big (265/70R16) tires and short overhangs instilled confidence in drivers as they piloted the Toyota through the more challenging sections. It was the general consensus that the Toyota was the most capable off-road of all the trucks. We would advise potential buyers to drive both standard suspension and TRD Off-Road-equipped Tacomas to see which setup best suits their needs.
In addition to its solid overall performance, the Tacoma also boasts Toyota's long-standing reliability record. One editor noted: "You could probably drive the hell out of this thing every day for 10 years, and it would still serve you well, asking only for gas and regular maintenance."
Road Test Coordinator Neil Chirico says:
This vehicle had the worst seats of the group, designed to fit those with small frames. The seat bottom is almost non-existent.
Off-road, it was very good, but maybe a little too stiff. It felt too tippy and nervous, even though it handled everything we threw at it. On-road, it had that same nervousness, like the suspension is just a tad too tight. However, again, it never became a serious issue, and it handled the slalom at the track very well.
This engine is the best of the bunch, hands down. It offers the best compromise between fuel economy and power. There is good power down low and a broad torque curve. I loved its flexibility.
I like everything about the exterior except the saber-tooth grill. It looks like something out of the Jurassic Park collection.
Toyota likes to entice buyers with a low base-price vehicle and option it up. Our vehicle was no exception.
Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
The Tacoma came in a close second when it came to picking my own personal favorites. It's hard not to like a truck that does everything so well. Like the Dakota, the Toyota looks great right off the lot. The tall stance and even proportions give it a tough look that would be hard to improve upon.
In contrast to the Dakota, however, the Toyota scores points for its supreme level of functionality more so than its endearing ride quality and spacious interior. The interior is logically arranged, with ridiculously simple controls and no fancy decorations basic-ally, it's still a real truck. If I were buying one of these trucks as a work vehicle, the Toyota would win hands down.
Off-road, the Tacoma is simply awesome. The tightly controlled TRD-tuned suspension dispatched every obstacle with ease, and the high ground clearance made scaling large boulders a much less threatening affair than most of the other trucks in the test. Back in civilization, the Tacoma still provides plenty of road feel, although the steering can be a bit heavy and slow to react.
The Tacoma really wasn't much of a surprise. It showed strong Toyota build quality, has a smooth and strong V6 and will likely last longer than you care to own it. If you're looking for sheer toughness and simplicity in a compact crew cab and don't mind a little less interior space, you can't go wrong with the Tacoma Double Cab.
Senior Editor Brent Romans says:
I've never been to Tacoma, Wash. I really have no idea what makes Tacoma so special that it deserves to have a compact pickup named after it. I suppose if I owned a Toyota Tacoma, I'd be inclined to drive to Washington just to see what the deal is. Maybe get some ice cream.
This truck would be up for the trip. The V6 provides the same level of acceleration as the Frontier S/C without the overdone marketing bravado. If I wanted to bring three of my closest friends and a big haul of manure up to Tacoma, I could; the backseat is pretty roomy and the cargo box is the second biggest of the trucks in this test. And after my friends bailed because they couldn't stand the stench, I could take to the trails. The Tacoma was by far the most capable truck in this test when it came to off-highway performance. It's also the only one with an optional rear differential lock. How cool is that!
There's very little wrong with the Tacoma. In fact, it would be the truck I would most likely buy if I were in the mood to buy a compact crew cab pickup. It would be a tough choice between this and the Dakota. The Dakota has the macho truck personality, but the Tacoma is the more sensible choice. And if it's my money, I'm going with sensible.
Ranking in Stereo Test: Fourth
System Score: 5.5
Components: This system begins with a nicely appointed Toyota head unit. Most Toyota vehicles have gone to a standardized radio beginning with the 2001 model year, and this pickup follows suit. It's a great radio, with widely spaced buttons, a cassette and single CD player, and separate knobs for volume and radio tuning. Very ergonomic and user-friendly. The radio position is just a little low, meaning the operator will have to take her eyes off the road from time to time when adjusting settings, but this is not a major concern.
Speakerwise, the system boasts 5-by-7 full-range drivers in the rear doors. These are complemented by a second set of 5-by-7s in the front doors, which in turn are aided by a pair of 1-inch tweeters in the upper doors. There is no subwoofer in this system.
Performance: Considering the size and shape of the speakers, it doesn't sound too bad. There's a problem in the middle bass range, with a roll-off in bass response in that area, but this is pretty common in systems with this kind of speaker setup. In spite of that, the system offers acceptable bass response, just slightly thin. This is further remedied by an ample power amplifier that gives the system a little kick. Unfortunately, with the poor speakers, the listener is unable to appreciate the amp fully. Still, a number of instruments, such as sax, horns, strings and percussion don't sound half bad.
Best Feature: Generous power amplification.
Worst Feature: Lack of a CD changer.
Conclusion: This is not a bad little system for a mini-pickup. There just happen to be better ones in this comparison test.
Man, this was close. Only seven-tenths of a point separated the first and second place contestants. But a win is a win. The victorious Dakota was the big bruiser in the group and the only truck available with V8 power. It was also considered the most handsome, with most editors pointing out the aggressive front end as their favorite design element. But being the best-looking, roomiest and most powerful rig in the group isn't enough to win this test the Dodge's well-rounded personality was also key in securing its victory.
With the Dakota's weight of nearly 4,500 pounds, a V8 is a good option to have. The standard mill is a 3.9-liter V6 with 175 horsepower and 225 pound-feet of torque, which we felt would be overburdened by a four-wheel-drive crew cab pickup. Our test vehicle sported the Jeep Grand Cherokee's 4.7-liter V8, which became available last year in this model. Rated at 230 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, the husky motor coped well with the Dakota's heft, making the truck feel lighter than it was. Nearly all editors praised the V8's broad and smooth powerband. And the hearty growl that accompanied the acceleration was an extra bonus to an enthusiast's ears.
The engine's sound intensified the impression of performance; although the Dodge was the quickest amongst its competitors with a 0-to-60-mph time of 8.8 seconds and a quarter-mile run of 16.8 ticks, it was only 0.4 and 0.2 seconds quicker in each test, respectively, than the Ford Explorer Sport Trac, which just didn't feel this close to the Dakota according to our highly calibrated butts. But the beauty of the torquey V8 became evident when we conducted the same test with 800 pounds of sandbags in the beds. Loaded up, the Dodge beat the Ford in the 0-to-60 sprint by a wider margin, nearly a full second. And the numbers don't convey how unstrained the Dakota felt while hauling our spoils from Home Depot to the track and then back after testing concluded. Coupled to the V8 is a four-speed automatic, which in the words of one editor was "never caught off guard." Downshifts were quick and precise, and full-throttle upshifts were also handled efficiently and without fuss.
Braking performance drew mostly positive reviews. Most staffers felt the binders exhibited good pedal feel and progressive action, while one editor thought the pedal was a bit mushy. Though its unladen 133-foot stopping distance from 60 mph was not as short as the Toyota's and Nissan's 125-foot efforts, it's interesting to note that the Dakota wasn't affected nearly as much when the same test was performed with the 'bags in the beds. The Dodge's stopping distance increased by only 4 feet, as opposed to the Japanese trucks' that required 15 additional feet. And all the tested trucks had antilock brakes, so the variable of the test driver having to modulate the pedal carefully to avoid locking 'em up was removed.
The Dakota also boasted a well-sorted suspension. On-road, the supple tuning swallowed up bumps, yet didn't have the truck wallowing through the turns. And off-road, the big (265/70R16) tires and compliant suspension easily handled everything we threw at them, including severely rutted and rock-strewn trails. Only the Dakota's broad girth (compared to that of the others) made for some anxious moments when negotiating the narrower trails during our off-road testing. Otherwise, no sweat.
A comfortable ride, both on- and off-road, a roomy cabin and cushy seats made the Dakota the top pick when all the journalists carpooled for lunch. The back seat rivaled the Explorer Sport Trac for most accommodating honors. An ample seat bottom provided proper thigh support (some of the other trucks had us sitting with our legs tilted up with space between them and the seat), and plenty of room in every direction kept hungry rear-seat passengers from getting on each other's nerves.
Other cabin pluses include adjustable cupholders, simple climate controls, rear doors that swung open nearly 90 degrees and steering wheel-mounted stereo controls.
If one word could best describe the Dakota, comfortable would be it. Whether carrying five adults, cruising the interstate, transporting cargo or tackling off-road terrain, the Dakota was at ease no matter where it was or what it was asked to do.
Road Test Coordinator Neil Chirico says:
Even with the largest track, this vehicle performed extremely well off-road. It tackled huge rocks like they were pebbles.
Easily the most comfortable cabin of the group with luxurious leather seating and well-designed interior ergonomics.
On the downside, I don't think I'd like to deal with its poor fuel economy in today's market. And Dodge quality could be an issue, though the company's newer products do seem to be better. We've had few complaints so far with our long-term Dodge Grand Caravan.
The Dakota is probably the best of the group, if you need a real work truck.
Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
With its burly tires, buff stance and purring V8 engine, the Dakota makes an impression before you even get inside. This is easily one of the best-looking trucks on the road. If I bought one, and I would in a second, I wouldn't change a thing.
A few hundred miles behind the wheel did little to change my opinion. The quiet V8 under the hood has great punch at any speed, with a slight absence of serious low-end grunt the only fault. The transmission shifts are so tight and smooth that I found myself toying with the throttle just to feel it snap from gear to gear.
The suspension is another unbeatable setup, soft enough for everyday driving, but plenty strong for rough trails and light towing. Combined with a noticeably stiff frame structure and beefy all-terrain tires, our test truck soaked up just about any obstacle with minimal intrusion to the cabin.
Inside, the Dakota continued to impress with comfortable seats, high-quality materials and a logical control layout. It's here that the midsize design makes the most difference, with plenty of room up front and usable seats in back. There's plenty of storage pockets up front, and the rear seats fold up for extra cargo space with a single lift of the seat cushion.
Like I said before, if I had to pick one truck to spend my own money on, the Dakota would most likely get the nod. Its combination of looks, power, passenger room and superior driving dynamics make it a truck that you look forward to driving, rather than just one that gets the job done.
Senior Editor Brent Romans says:
Of all of the vehicles in this test, only the Dodge Quad Cab was able to connect to my inner id. The Toyota, Sport Trac, S-10 and Frontier? Mere conveyances designed to be as practical and compromised as possible. But the Dakota? The Dakota had personality. I wanted to drive it. I wanted to mash the throttle to hear the rumbling V8. Make these silly cars in front of me on the freeway get out of the way. Full speed ahead. Grr! Fuel mileage? I don't care about stinkin' fuel mileage!
Well, let me qualify that. I don't care about it when I don't have to pay for it, which is the case when we conduct these tests. If I were considering a compact crew cab purchase, fuel consumption would play a bigger factor. Regardless, the Dakota would still be very high on my list.
This was the biggest truck in the test, but it didn't feel that way. The suspension amazed me in the way it could provide a nice ride quality on city streets, hustle the truck through corners and yet be flexible enough to hop over rocks and dirt. I also liked the Dakota's tough and aggressive exterior styling, big wheels and tires and the leather-trimmed interior.
I suppose it comes down to price. One can order a base Dakota Quad Cab on the cheap, but it doesn't come with much. By the time you add equipment (and I consider most of the equipment on our test truck to be worthy), the price jumps uncomfortably. If you buy one, watch those option boxes.
Ranking in Stereo Test: Second
System Score: 6.5
Components: This Infinity system begins with a nicely appointed head unit with a very user-friendly feel. Special features include a three-band graphic equalizer with a "mid" tone control, pop-out balance and fade buttons, and a meaty round volume knob. It also offers a cassette player and a single-play CD (where's the changer?). The preset buttons along the bottom of the faceplate are slightly bunched together, but Chrysler has given them a finger-friendly contour that makes them handy and easy to use. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the radio's presetting procedure, a two-stage process that we continue to complain about in hopes that DCX will change it someday. Instead of the simple "press and hold" procedure that is the industry standard, the Dakota radio makes things unnecessarily complex. Is anyone out there listening?
Speakers in this system include a pair of 6.5-inch full-range drivers in the rear doors, plus a pair of 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers in the forward doors. One of the nicest features in this system is a pair of Infinity tweeters, tucked inside the side mirrors in the front doors. They really sing, adding much to the quality of this system.
Performance: The best thing you can say about this system is it's loud. Really loud. In many ways, it sounds like the system in the Chevy S-10, only better and louder. The Infinity tweeters positioned by the side mirrors really singe your eyebrows. Other than that, the system lacks refinement (but who wants Grey Poupon in a mini-truck anyway, right?). As with the Chevy, highs are artificially trumped up, giving a nasally and strident sound, particularly at lower volumes. Bass, on the other hand, is flabby and loose (and this is no doubt by design, since such a setup is more efficient and you guessed it louder than systems with tighter bass.) But it is a great party system, fun for bumping down the road and gettin' crazy with your friends.
Best Feature: Did I say it was loud?
Worst Feature: Irksome radio presetting procedure.
Conclusion: Every time I see a Chrysler sound system, I'm forced to deduct points for the screwy presetting procedure. Which is a shame, since this is a great little truck system with a lot going for it. I'm not alone in disliking this feature; several other editors have commented upon it, as well.
When asked what we'd look for in a 4WD compact crew cab pickup, we responded with the following: comfortable accommodations for all passengers, a strong drivetrain, competent handling and ride (whether on-road or off), solid build quality and good crash protection (Note: Not all of the trucks have been crash-tested at the time this is being written, but the Dakota scored four stars out of five in frontal impact and five out of five for side impact). The truck that met these varied requirements best was the Dodge Dakota. Even one editor who is admittedly not a truck enthusiast was won over by the well-rounded and handsome Dodge.
Picking the Tacoma would be a fine choice, as well; it's fairly common knowledge that Toyota puts out quality product that lasts a long time. And said product tends to be well executed right off the bat. Consider that the current Tacoma dates back to 1995 and yet still nearly won the comparison test.
The other three? The Frontier's capabilities would match its aggressive demeanor if Nissan gave it more motor and offered an off-road package. Increased interior space wouldn't hurt, either. And both the Explorer Sport Trac and the S-10 are old designs that are overdue for a rebirth. If and when any of the above takes place, we'll be there ready and able to see how they stack up in our next clash of the compact crew cabs.
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||9||45|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||9||45|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||77.5||3|
|Toyota Tacoma||77.5||2 (t)|
|Nissan Frontier||77.5||2 (t)|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||57.5||5|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||72.5||4 (t)|
|Chevrolet S-10||72.5||4 (t)|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||75.0||4|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||62.5||4 (t)|
|Chevrolet S-10||62.5||4 (t)|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||85.0||1|
|Toyota Tacoma||72.5||3 (t)|
|Chevrolet S-10||72.5||3 (t)|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||77.5||2|
|Dodge Dakota||75.0||3 (t)|
|Nissan Frontier||75.0||3 (t)|
|Chevrolet S-10||75.0||3 (t)|
|Fun to Drive|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||57.5||4|
|Seat Comfort Front|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||85.0||1|
|Seat Comfort Rear|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||92.5||1|
|Wind and Road Noise|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||75.0||2|
|Toyota Tacoma||72.5||3 (t)|
|Chevrolet S-10||72.5||3 (t)|
|Rattles and Sqeaks|
|Toyota Tacoma||85.0||2 (t)|
|Nissan Frontier||85.0||2 (t)|
|Chevrolet S-10||85.0||2 (t)|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||67.5||5|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||75.0||3|
|Climate Control/Stereo Design/Operation|
|Nissan Frontier||80.0||1 (t)|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||80.0||1 (t)|
|Chevrolet S-10||80.0||1 (t)|
|Secondary Control Design/Operation|
|Nissan Frontier||85.0||2 (t)|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||85.0||2 (t)|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||62.5||4|
|Overall Build Quality|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||45.0||5|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||80.0||2|
|Nissan Frontier||72.5||3 (t)|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||72.5||3 (t)|
|Chevrolet S-10||72.5||3 (t)|
|Dodge Dakota||90.0||1 (t)|
|Toyota Tacoma||90.0||1 (t)|
|Nissan Frontier||67.5||3 (t)|
|Chevrolet S-10||67.5||3 (t)|
|Ford Explorer Sport Trac||62.5||5|
When comparing vehicles side-by-side, you have to look at more than just the size of the engine and the comfort of the seats. While we try to consider all aspects of a vehicle when we conduct our evaluations, choosing a truck for yourself often comes down to the little things that make it right for you. After more than a week of driving all six trucks in a variety of challenging conditions, our editors sat down and picked the 10 most important features they think you should consider when shopping for a compact crew cab truck. Keep in mind that any feature that came standard on all five trucks was not included in the final list, so things like air conditioning and a six-cylinder engine were not taken into consideration.
|Top Ten Features|
|Chevrolet S-10||Dodge Dakota||Ford Explorer Sport Trac||Nissan Frontier||Toyota Tacoma|
|Four-Wheel Antilock Brakes||S||O||S||S||O|
|Four-Wheel Disc Brakes||S||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Heavy-Duty Tow Package||N/A||O||O||N/A||N/A|
N/A: Not Available
Four-Wheel Antilock Brakes: This is an area where trucks have lagged behind cars for a long time, but considering that three out of the five trucks came so equipped, it seems as though the tide is finally turning for the better. The benefits are obvious full-bore panic stops in the least amount of distance, while also avoiding skids that can affect the ability to steer the vehicle.
Bedliner: This handy item was a staple of the aftermarket truck accessory market until the manufacturers suddenly realized there was yet another area where they could gouge the customer for even more money. With a hard plastic shell covering the dentable and scratchable steel bed underneath, you can feel free to toss all manner of building supplies into the bed without fear of permanently damaging your expensive new toy.
Four-Wheel Disc Brakes: Now this category was a tad more controversial than the first, since only one truck in the test was so equipped. There are still a significant number of cars on the road that use good ol' drums in the back for a cheap means of braking, but if one truck can have rear discs, why not all of them? The Dakota managed to match the Chevy in terms of added feet when loaded with weight, but history has shown that under repeated heavy braking when fully loaded, having rear discs almost always results in less overall fade and better long-term performance.
Limited-Slip Differential: Although this may seem like overkill on four-wheel-drive-equipped trucks, having a limited-slip rear differential helps not only in the dirt but on the pavement, as well, making it almost as functional as four-wheel-drive itself, depending on what kind of weather conditions you typically encounter. It should be noted that the Toyota Tacoma came equipped with a driver-activated locking rear differential, but since it was only usable at speeds below 5 mph, we considered this less useful than a full-time limited-slip.
CD Changer: This item bears little explanation. We have come to love the idea of being able to feed up to six discs right into the dashboard at the start of a trip and never feeling want of new tunes until six hours thereafter.
Heavy-Duty Tow Package: If you're going to buy a truck, you might as well be able to tow stuff with it, right? We examined each truck's options sheet for items that significantly aid the vehicle's ability to tow heavy loads. The Durango was the only vehicle so equipped, with a high-capacity transmission oil cooler, Class IV hitch and a heavy-duty battery.
Skid Plates: After attacking some seriously perilous trails in our local mountains, we came to a much greater appreciation for the added protection that factory-installed skid plates provide. If you never plan on venturing off-road, you can pretty much disregard this category, but if rock-strewn trails will be a regular, or even occasional, part of your pickup's diet, having these lifesavers underneath is a good idea.
Tow Hooks: Again, these will only prove their worth if you venture into the wilderness often, but like skid plates, they will likely prove themselves valuable right when you need them the most. Essentially, tow hooks act as convenient anchor points for the attachment of yank straps or winch cables in the event that your vehicle becomes stuck. As we learned from our highly experienced trail guide, trying to pull a vehicle out of the muck without tow hook attachments can often result in serious vehicle damage.
Cargo Light: If you've ever started out for a nice relaxing camping trip on a beautiful summer afternoon only to be confronted with pouring rain and pitch-black darkness when you finally arrive at your campsite, you already know the benefits of a cargo light. For everybody else, we'll just tell you that these handy lights make loading and unloading your truck's cargo box a whole lot easier when lighting conditions are less than ideal.
Off-Road Package: As with the heavy-duty tow package category, when we considered off-road packages, we looked at features that truly give the truck enhanced performance in the rough stuff, not just a sticker on the side of the bed. The only vehicle that met our requirements was the Toyota with its TRD package. With that, buyers get progressive-rate coil springs in front, larger heavy-duty Bilstein shocks, a locking differential and oversized BFGoodrich all-terrain tires.
|Exterior Dimensions & Capacities|
|Chevrolet S-10||Dodge Dakota||Ford Explorer Sport Trac||Nissan Frontier||Toyota Tacoma|
|Cargo Box length, inches||55.2||63.1||50.0||56.3||61.5|
|Cargo Box width, inches||56.6||59.3||55.0||59.8||57.9|
|Cargo Box width (between wheelwells), inches||40.4||45.1||41.2||39.8||40.9|
|Cargo Box height, inches||16.7||17.5||19.7||17.1||15.9|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||18.0||24.0||20.5||19.4||18.5|
|Max. Payload Capacity, lbs.||1,111||1,350||1,180||1,000||1,399|
|Max. Towing Capacity||5,200||6,350||5,040||5,000||5,000|
|Chevrolet S-10||Dodge Dakota||Ford Explorer Sport Trac||Nissan Frontier||Toyota Tacoma|
|Front head room, inches||39.4||39.8||39.4||39.3||38.8|
|Rear head room, inches||38.2||38.4||38.9||37.8||37.8|
|Front leg room, inches||42.4||41.9||42.4||41.4||42.8|
|Rear leg room, inches||34.6||36.0||37.8||30.7||33.8|
|Front shoulder room, inches||57.1||58.1||56.7||55.3||53.9|
|Rear shoulder room, inches||57.2||57.4||56.9||54.4||53.5|
|Engine & Transmission|
|Chevrolet S-10||Dodge Dakota||Ford Explorer Sport Trac|
|Engine Type||12-Valve V6||16-Valve SOHC V8||12-Valve SOHC V6|
|Horsepower (SAE) @ rpm||190 @ 4400||230 @ 4800||205 @ 5250|
|Max. Torque, lb-ft @ rpm||250 @ 2800||295 @ 3200||240 @ 3750|
|Transmission||four-speed automatic w/overdrive||four-speed automatic w/overdrive||five-speed automatic w/overdrive|
|Observed Fuel Economy Average, mpg||15||12||15|
|EPA Fuel Economy City/Hwy, mpg||15/18||13/18||15/19|
|Nissan Frontier||Toyota Tacoma|
|Engine Type||12-Valve SOHC V6||24-Valve DOHC V6|
|Horsepower (SAE) @ rpm||210 @ 4800||190 @ 4800|
|Max. Torque, lb-ft @ rpm||246 @ 2800||220 @ 3600|
|Transmission||four-speed automatic w/overdrive||four-speed ECT automatic w/overdrive|
|Observed Fuel Economy Average, mpg||13||15|
|EPA Fuel Economy City/Hwy, mpg||15/18||17/19|
|Performance Testing||Chevrolet S-10||Dodge Dakota||Ford Explorer Sport Trac||Nissan Frontier||Toyota Tacoma|
|Zero-to-60-mph acceleration, sec.||10.4||8.8||9.2||10.1||9.6|
|Zero-to-60-mph acceleration w/800-lb. payload, sec.||12.9||10.4||11.3||11.8||11.5|
|Quarter-mile acceleration, sec.||17.3||16.8||17.0||17.6||17.2|
|Quarter-mile speed, mph||78.2||79.1||80.3||75.6||78.7|
|60-to-0-mph braking, feet||139||133||128||125||125|
|60-to-0-mph braking w/800-lb. payload, feet||143||137||135||140||140|
|600-ft slalom, mph||59.9||59.0||57.9||60.6||60.3|
|Warranty Information||Chevrolet S-10||Dodge Dakota||Ford Explorer Sport Trac|
|Basic Warranty||3 years/36,000 miles||3 years/36,000 miles||3 years/36,000 miles|
|Powertrain||3 years/36,000 miles||3 years/36,000 miles||3 years/36,000 miles|
|Roadside Assistance||3 years/36,000 miles||3 years/36,000 miles||3 years/36,000 miles|
|Corrosion Protection||6 years/100,000 miles||5 years/100,000 miles||5 years/unlimited miles|
|Warranty Information||Nissan Frontier||Toyota Tacoma|
|Basic Warranty||3 years/36,000 miles||3 years/36,000 miles|
|Powertrain||5 years/60,000 miles||5 years/60,000 miles|
|Roadside Assistance||Unlimited yrs./Unlimited miles||N/A|
|Corrosion Protection||5 years/unlimited miles||5 years/unlimited miles|
Chevrolet S-10 Crew Cab
"...The back seat is the same size as the Blazer. It is a standard size, not small like jumper seats. Adults fit good, but I have not taken it on a real long trip yet with an adult passenger in the rear. The adult passengers that did ride in it said they had enough room. For kids, it is perfect. There are two shoulder strap-type seat belts and one lap belt for a middle person.... The kids I haul are 11 and 5, plus a golden retriever! People that have seen the back seat area are impressed with the amount of room it has.... The only problem was that when it came in it did not have the middle lap belt for the rear passenger, so I had to wait a few days till they got another one in so they could get the belt out of that one. They did not want to order a belt without knowing what the part really was that they needed. Other than that, there have been no problems.... It is a great truck!" pepster, "Chevy S-10 Owner Reviews," #406 of 489, Jan. 16, 2001
"I have a new S-10 Crew Cab. I was one of the first here to have one in the East. I bought it because of my GM points. I generally like the vehicle. Good backseat and pretty good drive...." mathuzula, "Chevy S-10 Owner Reviews, "411 of 489, Jan. 19, 2001
Dodge Dakota Quad Cab
"After 6,000 miles, our black '01 Quad Cab is fabulous. My wife and I couldn't be happier (unless gas prices start dropping). We have a loaded 4.7L AT 4WD, and the only thing I wish it had was leather. I'll survive! We took a 450-mile trip last weekend and did 21 mpg with the wind at our back, and 19 coming back into it. I was quite pleased, as we seem to get 16 mpg in the city. Just put an aftermarket hitch on to pull sleds and a 14-foot fishing boat. Couldn't even tell the boat was back there except when I looked in the mirror. I can't wait to get that 20-footer with a 4.3 I/O back there and really test it." prophetx, "Dodge Dakota Owners - Quad Cab," #3098 of 3417, May 21, 2001
"I recently traded my '97 2WD Club Cab V6/five-speed SLT+ for a '01 2WD Quad Cab 4.7L V8/five-speed SLT+, and here are a few observations I've made about the changes they've made primarily to the interior of the truck: (1) Biggest complaint: Some knucklehead thought that the seats were too comfortable, so they shortened them and did away with a useful headrest. Problem solved; they're no longer too comfortable. (2) To some people (my wife being the only one with a real vote), the new interior looks cheaper than the previous. I don't agree, but we'll see how the black holds up. (3) One good cupholder beside the gearshift is far better than two bad ones located precisely in line with second and fourth gear. (4) Although it doesn't snap your head back, the sound and performance of the 4.7 more than makes up for the giant sucking sound that I think I hear in the region of the gas tank every time I step on the gas. (5) What's the deal with the foldaway mirrors? I worry about my wife catching one (I'd never do such a thing) as she backs out of the garage, but when they're folded forward, they still stick out as far as when they're in their normal position; that's not gonna help unless she can stop within six inches. (6) The tire/handling/quad-cab package looks a lot better and bigger than my previous rig. (7) Did I mention how good the 4.7 sounds? (8) Why'd they get cheap on the hood insulation? I sure hope the paint holds up. As far as the sound reduction, the '01 is at least as quiet if not quieter than my 97. Hey, I should have peeled the insulation out of my '97 before the trade! Overall, I really like my '01 so far. I went with another Dakota because my '97 was a great pickup and never had a single problem in four years/40,000 miles. The only reason I traded it was so that I could get a child safety seat safely in the back you can't do that with the club cab. Oh, and thanks a lot Dodge! After four years of driving around with a V6 sticker on my truck, labeling me a wimpy truck driver, I finally get the V8 and they take the badge off a couple months before I buy." ksatbjh, "Dodge Dakota Owners - Quad Cab," #3237 of 3417, June 10, 2001
"...I am a quite satisfied 2000 Quad Cab owner. One of the reasons that I selected the Dodge Dakota over others is that it had four full-sized, front-hinged doors. It was the only crew cab truck that allowed me to couple a V8 engine to a five-speed manual transmission. I personally prefer purchasing American made products; although in reality, there are no longer 'pedigree' American products available. Another reason is that I owned previously a 1995 Dodge Dakota Club Cab with the 318 and a five-speed and loved that truck. The size of a Dakota is unique in that it falls between a full-size and a compact. The Nissan Frontier crew cab was also considered until I test drove one. There was a lack of power and I guess that Nissan recognized it as well, hence the new supercharged version. The pedals on the Nissan were very close to each other and my size 12 EEE shoes became entangled. Although I have not driven a Toyota Tundra, the 'suicide' doors and the inability to combine five-speed and V8 eliminated any further thoughts for purchasing that particular vehicle. As for the choice between the 4.7 and the 5.9, here is my take for what it's worth: If you tow heavy loads on a regular basis, the 5.9 is a good choice. It has lots of "grunt" but the price of that is fuel consumption. If you prefer a five-speed transmission, then the 5.9 is not an option...." bookitty, "DODGE DAKOTA QUAD CAB," #862 of 1000, April 5, 2001
Ford Explorer Sport Trac
"My Sport Trac passed 10,000 miles and nine months a little while back. The ST has been super-reliable and very enjoyable to own. The only maintenance that has been performed has been oil changes and tire rotations. The vehicle has been through 115-degree temps in Palm Springs [and] 20-degree temps in the mountains, has endured Los Angeles traffic jams and always comes back for more. The vehicle has been very enjoyable to own, very versatile and fun to drive." traction, "Ford Explorer Sport Trac - IV," #302 of 365, Jan. 12, 2001
"A review is not a review unless you have put 15+K on your Sport Trac. The ST has a ride that's more comfortable than most cars after cruising six hours at 80 mph on the freeway. With adjustable leather seats, speed control and tilt steering wheel, there was no fatigue. With a 20.5-gallon capacity fuel tank at 22-24 mpg, I easily got 400 miles before stopping. I can tell you that you won't get many gripes from that 6-foot+ passenger in the back seat. I can tell you that after putting the brake pedal to the floor at 40 mph, those large brake rotors held and stopped easily with no loss of control. I can tell you, you won't go though the moon roof going over dirt roads and train tracks. I can tell you that you can't put large appliances in an SUV as you can with the ST. I can tell you SUV owners don't want to haul garbage or dirt.... I can tell you, if you just want a car, buy one; if you just want a truck, buy one; if you want a car and the occasional truck, buy a ST. For me, my ST with the hard cover is a car with the largest boot than any other car on the road." rb125, "Ford Explorer Sport Trac - IV," #162 of 365, Oct. 26, 2000
"I first heard of the ST when in development, and it caught my interest back then. I've been reading this site for nearly four months to get a feel for this vehicle's quality, ride, etc. I bought a red ST 4x4 on Labor Day.... They had four on the lot (Baltimore) and found one I liked right away. I didn't get fancy. It came with the cage, single CD and I ordered the tonneau cover.... The ST had the gas door rub but I told them I would not take delivery until that was fixed. The next day it was done.... All of the doors' under-panels were painted and the rear window rolls down evenly. I got 15 mph on the first tank and 18 mph on the second.... The ride is a bit stiff, but I expect that for a pickup with its hauling/towing capability. The cloth seats are very comfortable and snug. It's extremely roomy, the kids love it (especially the heat/radio controls in the backseat), and I do get lots of looks. I am amazed at the smoothness of the transmission. I didn't think that this was one of Ford's strong suits, but I guess they figured it out. The step-up in the vehicle is higher than I thought, but then that makes it even more "manly".... I will probably get the bed mat eventually, no hurry though. So far I am extremely impressed with the quality of the vehicle and do not have a single complaint. I dropped the family off in front of the restaurant last night and got a ton of looks and comments." alman, "2K Ford Explorer Sport Trac's - III," #519 of 521, Sept. 23, 2000
Nissan Frontier Crew Cab
"...I finally decided to purchase a 2001 Frontier CC SE five-speed 2WD, Deluxe and Utility packages, Sand Dune color, bed liner, bed extender. Paid roughly $100 under KBB invoice (including installed options). I think that this was a fair deal. I had it narrowed down to two finalists: Toyota Double Cab or the Frontier CC. Toyota: More expensive, no dealers willing to discount/deal to invoice. No 5 spd in Double Cab. Safety ratings and standard brakes stink. Frontier: Just right for my needs. Price was right, configuration was exactly what I was looking for. Dealers much more pleasant (relatively speaking, of course). Good brakes and good safety ratings...." tman_az, "Nissan Frontier Crew Cab," #464 of 572, Feb. 4, 2001
"Just bought a 2001 Frontier Crew Cab earlier this month and had to write about how pleased I am with the vehicle. I, too, considered a Dodge Dakota but didn't take long to decide not after hearing all the bad reports. I have also heard many bad things about Chrysler/Dodge transmissions. We own a Mercury Villager and have been very happy with the Nissan engine it has. More on the CC: It's a XE, silver, deluxe package, under rail liner, bed extender, hitch, floor mats. I am getting a little over 17 mpg on the first two tanks of gas in a mix of city and highway driving.... My kids love riding in this truck, too...." daryl_j, "Nissan Frontier Crew Cab," #481 of 572, March 15, 2001
"After much reading here on the boards, I went to the local dealer this past Saturday, and picked up my '01 CC SE 4x2. I am very impressed with the truck so far. Comfy, holds a few friends, and my trips to Home Depot just got a lot easier. Made what I thought was a fair deal with the dealer. I went in loaded for bear, had my Palm downloaded with all the Invoice prices. Told my sales person, to not even bother coming back at me with MSRP, or I would walk. They immediately came back with invoice in everything, no fuss, no muss. There was a strange fee of $267 for the infamous administrative charges, but since everything had gone so well to that point, I just let it go. This is my second Nissan truck the first was a 1984 King Cab, which I sold after 10 years of trouble-free service. I can only imagine this will be as good or better." g8torlenny, "Nissan Frontier Crew Cab," #498 of 572, April 11, 2001
Toyota Tacoma Double Cab
"Bought my DC 4x4 TRD V6 last month and I couldn't be happier with this truck. I do a lot of hunting so I go off road a lot, and in my opinion, the TRD package is as advertised. It really tames those rough roads. Everyone I've taken off-road with me has been impressed with the ride. On the highway, the ride is firm but comfortable, and it corners well. On my second tankful of gas I got approx. 20 mpg (highway) carrying about 300 pounds of gear. The 190-horsepower V6 suits me just fine; although, I do plan on having it turbocharged in the near future. Also, the Toy has a 5/60 power train warranty, while the others offer a 3/36. I think if you decide on the Toy you will not regret it. I absolutely love mine." icecliff, "Toyota Tacoma Double Cab," #241 of 329, April 17, 2001
"As soon as I saw the Dodge Dakota Quad Cab, I knew I wanted that configuration (replacing an '89 Pathfinder) to accommodate family and still go climbing here in Washington and get nasty dirty. Waited till Toyota came out with the Double Cab because I wasn't willing to risk a Dodge given some of the quality problems I've seen on this site.... As far as driving experience, I am happier with my DC every day. Drove four people and climbing gear into the North Cascades and it hummed along like a charm and rode smooth on 20+ miles of gravel roads. My wife, who definitely did not want a truck in the family, now loves it and prefers it to her Mercedes SUV. We use the DC for all family trips now. Now, I am only hoping that the Toyota reliability will take care of the rest. My dad is on his second Tundra/T100 and has had great luck so I'm hopeful." petitdru, "Toyota Tacoma Double Cab," #291 of 329, June 6, 2001
"I told my story back in late November, early December when I bought the Toyota (I love it). I actually had a Dodge Dakota Quad Cab for a whole 10 months before I traded it in on the Tacoma DC. It was, hands down, the worst vehicle I ever owned. Customer service was awful. I was at the dealer weekly. I had one TSB problem (Grinding noise in the front wheel) they tried four times to fix and couldn't, even though the TSB was older than the build date of the truck. I had 3 other warranty problems (weatherstripping falling off, trans filler hose leak recalled for that and potential brake failure also recalled). None of them insignificant. Every time I went to the dealer, I had to make an appointment, wait, show them the problem. They'd keep the truck all day, then call me to pick it up. They'd tell me they confirmed the problem and ordered the parts, so then I had to bring it back again and wait again. And then usually they didn't get it right anyway.... I got about 11 mpg with the 4.7 l 4x4 auto. I'm getting 19 mpg in my Toyota. It handles far better, accelerates nearly as well, and actually has 200 lbs more payload capacity. I have two kids in car seats and they fit in the back seat exactly like they did in the Dak. The only size difference is that the back seat is narrower, so only a small adult can sit in between the car seats. I don't notice the lost 1.5 inches in the bed. I do notice the overall 13-inch shorter length when I'm parking. (Yes, the Dak has a very long hood!) Approach and departure angles are much better with less overhang, too. Get the Toyota. It's cheaper, too." bsparx, "Toyota Tacoma Double Cab," #239 of 329, April 17, 2001
|Final Rankings||Chevrolet S-10||Dodge Dakota||Ford Explorer Sport Trac||Nissan Frontier||Toyota Tacoma|
|Personal Rating (10% of score)||25.0%||90.0%||45.0%||50.0%||90.0%|
|Recommended Rating (10% of score)||35.0%||90.0%||45.0%||40.0%||90.0%|
|Evaluation Score (20% of score)||67.9%||84.9%||71.6%||73.4%||79.9%|
|Performance Testing (20% of score)||64.1%||94.4%||85.6%||73.3%||82.1%|
|Feature Content (20% of score)||47.0%||43.0%||53.0%||43.0%||47.0%|
|Price (20% of score)||100.0%||81.0%||91.0%||93.0%||91.0%|
Personal Rating: Purely subjective. After the test, each editor was asked to rank the trucks in order of preference based on which truck he or she would buy if money were no object.
Recommended Rating: After the test, each editor was asked to rank the trucks in order of preference based on which truck he or she thought would be best for the average consumer shopping in this segment.
20-Point Evaluation: Each editor ranked every truck based on a comprehensive 20-point evaluation. The evaluation covered everything from exterior design to cupholders. Scoring was calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are averages based on all test participants' evaluations.
Performance Testing: Each truck was put through a battery of instrumented testing. For this test, we evaluated the vehicles via 0-to-60-mph acceleration, quarter-mile acceleration, 60-to-0-mph braking and speed through a 600-foot slalom. We also ran acceleration and braking tests with an 800-pound payload in each truck's bed. We were not able to test maximum road-holding grip (lateral acceleration) on a skidpad because it was not available at the time of this test. For each test, the truck that obtained the best result received a maximum score. The remaining trucks received scores based on how close they came to the top truck's score. The final number shown is an accumulation of results from each test.
Feature Content: For this category, the editors picked the top 10 features they thought would be most beneficial to the consumer shopping in this segment. For each truck, the score was based on the amount of actual features the truck had versus the total possible (10). Standard and optional equipment were taken into consideration.
Price: The numbers listed were the result of a simple percentage calculation based on the least expensive truck in the comparison test. Using the "as tested" prices of the actual evaluation vehicles, the least expensive truck received a score of 100, with the remaining trucks receiving lesser scores based on how much each one costs.